Yes, one of my favorite subjects was in the news again recently: the perils of adapting recipes. Here are two recent developments that affected a cooking show host and a food blogger:
1. Show cancelled because of adapting recipes. The Food Network cancelled the show of TV Chef Anne Thornton because she adapted recipes based on making small tweaks to the recipes of others, apparently.
Media outlets went crazy when the news hit that her show, Dessert First, was not renewed because many of her recipes were “plagiarized” from Martha Stewart and Ina Garten, specifically a German chocolate frosting and lemon bars.
“You take what you learn from them and then you riff on that,”she said in her defense in a story in the UK Daily Mail. “As for lemon squares, there’s only so many ways you can make them, so of course there will be similarities.”
Her comment sounds similar to those I’ve received on this blog. And I don’t necessarily disagree with her, in principle. There really are only so many lemon bar recipes, and is it your job to find the original one? Here’s what I’d say to her: “If you have nothing new to offer about a lemon bar, move on.”
What’s great about the Daily Mail story is that you can see a side-by-side comparison of her frosting recipe and Stewart’s. Scroll down to the end of the article and read the recipes. Clearly, Thornton made a few minor edits. It’s one thing to be inspired from someone else’s recipe and write your own, and another to just tweak a few words and amounts.
That rule you’ve heard, about changing three things in a recipe to make it yours? It didn’t work for her.
Food blogger Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen asked, “Why is it plagiarizing Martha or Ina, not the other 10K people who have published riffs on these?”
Cookbook author Nancie McDermott said (in a series of tweets) the report’s tone was sensational. “It presumes we can & should come up w/Unique NeverB4Seen Creations. Stealing = bad&wrong. But…who created lemon bars? Where? What time? If I could come up with something “new,” why couldn’t another 1 come up with same thing on own?” This stinks of ‘faux-righteous’ outrage. Seldom can we track ‘1st Ever!’ And why bother?”
Food blogger and cookbook author Beth Sheresh of Kitchen Mage tweeted, “Nothing is new. Created a recipe from nothing but my head. Found THREE different recipes that were exactly same thing.”
On My Will Write for Food Facebook page, food blogger Amanda McInerny of Lamb’s Ears and Honey wrote, “I just wonder if there isn’t another agenda here. It is a rare and remarkable cook who can come up with a recipe which doesn’t reference some other dish, somewhere in the universe. With the popularity of food books, mags, tv, blogs etc I can’t see this issue going away or being resolved any time soon. …not at all sure that rare and remarkable is what tv execs look for in anything. I suspect they are after looks and marketability to attract the advertisers – it would be nice to think I’m wrong, though.”
2. Food blogger harassed for adapting recipes. Lest you think that people only notice when televisions hosts adapt recipes, Australian Food Blogger Amanda McInerney (whose comment you read above) posted an adapted recipe by UK cookbook author Dan Lepard on her blog. She left the ingredients list the same, but wrote her own headnote and method. Lepard’s business manager, David Whitehouse, came after her in the comments of her blog post and requested she take her adaptation down. She refused. Read the blog’s comments to see what ensued. Two intellectual property lawyers came to her defense! Whitehouse’s argument is that her work was derivative, and therefore subject to copyright law.
I dug around and found three other brownie and sweet potato recipes:
- On The Kitchn, the writer linked to the original Leopard recipe and listed only the ingredients, converting them for an American audience. I like that, even though readers have to print his recipe and The Kitchn’s.
- The blogger of PaleOMG changed the ingredients to include honey, coconut oil and coconut flour and didn’t mention his recipe — if indeed she got it from him.
- Most fascinating was a brownie and sweet potato recipe from Body-Soul from April 2009, more than two years before Dan Lepard published his recipe in the UK Guardian. So whose recipe was it in the first place?
What is the message in these events? Adapt recipes at your own risk? Or should we all just get over it, because everyone does it, and recipes can’t be copyrighted anyway?
You might also like:
- Adjusting a Recipe Doesn’t Make it Yours
- Should Bloggers Be Praised for Recipes They Didn’t Write?
- Whole Lot of Lifting Going On
- Recipe Attribution